Scientists’ photos of their colleagues, an historical picture surfaces, & a mathematician’s legacy


Photo of Josephine Silone Yates

This is Josephine Silone Yates in around 1885. She was the first African-American women to head a college science department and the first to become a full professor. Silone Yates was an activist. And that’s why this photo of her surfaced recently. The Library of Congress digitized and released 19th century photos of black women activists – and this photo from a postcard was one of them. (Thanks to @WikiWomenInRed for spreading the word!)

As well as adding this newly available photo to Silone Yates’ Wikipedia page, I added this one that was published with her obituary in 1912. That’s in the new images slide show below.

This week also showed the value of asking senior scientists if they have photos they took of noted and groundbreaking scientists. Raymond L. Johnson went from a segregated two-room school in Texas in the 1940s to a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in 2015. Along the way, he broke the color barrier after a lawsuit to attend Rice University, and was the first African-American mathematics professor at the University of Maryland. He put me in touch with Lenore Blum, computer scientist professor at Carnegie Mellon, who had taken photos at a 1995 gathering of African-American mathematicians. The first two photos from this treasure trove are below: Raymond Johnson and Fern Hunt. Know a senior scientist who’s always taking photos at conferences? Ask them who they have in their collection!

And another Twitter lucky break: hunting for a photo of one of the first African-American women to get a PhD in mathematics, professor and provost Thyrsa Frazier Svager (1930-1999), turned up a little tribute to her on Twitter by the Dayton Federation. Take a few moments to watch it – she’s amazing! She and her physics professor husband, Aleksandar Svager, lived on one of their salaries so they could invest the other to build a legacy for  a scholarship fund for African-Americans and other minorities to study mathematics or physics.



They replied to a tweet, got permission from her husband to put the photo in the public domain, and I wrote a Wikipedia page about her amazing life.

More to check out since the last post:

New images slideshow


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Josephine Silone Yates, Raymond L. Johnson, and Thyrsa Frazier-Svager are all discussed above. The two others in the slideshow:

Fern Hunt (b. 1948) is a mathematician who has worked on problems at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), as well as her own research and teaching.

Nicole King (b. 1970) is a biologist, MacArthur Fellow, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. She has a lab at University of California, Berkeley – and she developed and maintains a list of resources for people who want to increase diversity at science conferences: let her know if you have resources to add.

Featured scientists needing images

Some people you may not know! Inspired? You could help by emailing the library or media office at any of the institutions they were associated with, to try to get a photo that could be used on Wikipedia! (More on what Wikipedia needs here.)



New scientists’ pages on Wikipedia

Ritu Karidhal had one of the new pages on Wikipedia. Some other new pages since the last post – all but the first have no photos.

Núria López-Bigas is a Spanish biologist who leads the Biomedical Genomics Research Group in Barcelona, investigating cancer genomes using computation.

Ampar Acker-Palmer (b. 1968) is a cell biologist and neuroscientist, who has worked on the similarities in nerve and blood vessel development. She is from Spain, working in Germany.

Rebecca Bace (1955-2017) was a Japanese-American computer scientist and pioneer in intrusion detection who worked at the NSA and Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as industry and academia.

Mónica Tarducci is an anthropologist and feminist activist in Buenos Aires, who has described herself as a “secular missionary, spreading knowledge through different contexts”.

Other faces slideshow

While looking for scientists’ faces, you come across others who are missing from Wikipedia that need to be added. This time, it led to a new Wikipedia page for an African-American suffragist and anti-lynching activist.


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An amazing couple: Nellie Griswold Francis (1874-1969) was an African-American suffragist, who not only helped achieve women’s right to vote in Minnesota, but initiated, drafted, and lobbied for an anti-lynching bill that was signed into law in 1921. Later, she and her husband were the target of a Ku Klux Klan campaign when they bought a house in a white neighborhood – with death threats and crosses burned on the front lawn. She was an amateur singer and actor, too, including writing at least one play.

Her husband, William T. Francis (1870-1929), was a successful lawyer who also won several racial discrimination battles, was active politically – and helped with the anti-lynching bill. He was Minnesota’s first black diplomat, appointed Consul-General in Liberia in 1927. He died there of yellow fever in 1929 – but an investigation he did into forced labor and slavery set off a chain of events that brought down the Liberian president and vice-president.

William Sidney Pittman (1875-1958) was an African-American architect, the son-in-law of Booker T. Washington, and later published a weekly newspaper.

And Jennie Dean was born into slavery in 1848: she became a suffragist, and founded churches, Sunday schools, and the only higher education institution open to African-Americans at the time.

Inspired? Share some of these pictures and stories, and read about how you can help find missing scientists’ faces. And a big thank you to Raymond Johnson, Lenore Blum, Wiki Women in Red, the Dayton Foundation, and Alexsandar Svager for their help!

Hilda Bastian





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